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Labor unions swing newfound political muscle

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Emboldened by the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, unions and the labor movement is out to show their strength at the polling booths. They're not sitting still this Labor Day weekend, and they intend to reach out to voters far beyond the nation's 14.8 million card-carrying union members.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Labor union demonstrators made their presence known outside the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida and union members plan to be out in force in battleground states this weekend.

While unions remain a critical player in industries such as auto manufacture, the labor union movement is not the size it once was, representing just 11.8 percent of U.S. workers as of 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 20 percent as recently as 1983 and 35 percent when the movement was at its peak in the mid-1950s.

Every election year unions demonstrate their political power through the "ground game" of going door-to-door and mobilizing voters. The 2010 ruling has been a game changer for labor, allowing unions for the first time to use funds and manpower to zero in on non-union households.

"The ground game is as old as politics. Doesn't mean it's any less important, but they have given us a very new ground game," Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley said. "Part of that is reaching out to non-union families who are sympathetic to labor's political positions.

"The numbers (for organized labor) have undeniably declined. But its ground game will be central to the Democrats' fortunes in November - and very powerful in a close vote. So labor is playing a critical role particularly as the money pours into the Republican coffers," Shaiken added.

Union members have begun a door-knocking campaign by visiting 640,000 homes. Activity "will be heavier" in six key states this weekend and will grow as Election Day nears, Jeff Hauser, spokesman for the AFL-CIO vows.

America's largest union federation is powering its mass mobilization through a fresh alliance with MoveOn.Org, a seven million-member liberal advocacy group. Hauser says that labor's message is "being crushed financially" by Republicans who are "dialing up a handful of billionaires, cashing some checks and paying a media consultant to produce hit ads" slamming Obama.

While the unions are vastly outspent by corporate political action committees, they hope to reach the masses with a smarter ground game, galvanized at least in part through digital media, Hauser said.

Labor unions had made about $70 million in contributions this election season as of June 30, with 89 percent going to Democrats, according to the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org. Corporate interests in the meantime have made hundreds of millions in donations, with the majority going to Republican candidates.

According to Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, the labor movement's dwindling is exactly why the AFL-CIO has unleashed squadrons of activists onto the campaign trail: simply to bolster its influence via a showy display of force contends The group describes itself not as anti-union but as standing against "union officials' abuse of power."

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